Word of the Week: Bioluminescence

Bioluminescence in jellyfish at Monterrey Bay Aquarium. Photo by Chris Favero. (CC BY-SA 2.0) (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/)

Bioluminescence is an excellent phenomenon whereby a living organism produces and emits light, usually a pale yellow or blue. Although the images of beaches with glowing waves lapping at a shore are beautiful, and something many aspire to see, looking more closely at the actual creatures reveals they’re rather less endearing.

If you’re lucky, it’ll be dinoflagellates that are bioluminescing, tiny indistinguishable eukaryotes. These I can get behind. If you’re unlucky though, they’ll be squid bioluminescing, dredged up from the depths of the ocean to terrorise unsuspecting swimmers. No thank you!

Male anglerfish are parasitic of female anglerfish, literally fusing with the female anglerfish to feed through their blood supply.

At least squid are using their bioluminescence for camouflage. Worse, perhaps, are those that use it for luring prey. Let me remind you of the anglerfish, portrayed in all it’s ugly glory by Pixar in Finding Nemo. Anglerfish have an appendage called an ‘esca’ on their heads to lure prey to their doom in the dark depths of the ocean.

Also horrifyingly, male anglerfish are parasitic of female anglerfish, literally fusing with the female anglerfish to feed through their blood supply. Not a creature you’d ever want to come across. Dragonfish are another, even more horrifying deep-sea fish, not unlike an eel, but with giant creepy eyes to boot. Keep them away from me. The sea’s a terrifying place.

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